AskRedditFood: Does anyone find they prefer white over black pepper or vice versa?

Perhaps it helps to consider an analogy of red vs. green bell pepper. They are the same exact item, in different stages of ripeness. And although they are the same berry (peppers are in the berry family), they taste quite different. The chlorophyll still in the pepper (making it green) gives a slight bitter taste. Many other chemicals change during ripening as well, including acid and cellulose levels. The result is a slightly softer (texture) and sweeter (flavor) item.

The next question is whether you would use one in place of the other… and the answer is: sometimes, but typically not. Green bell pepper is a critical flavor component of many creole dishes, in which a red bell pepper has no place (just too sweet). And red bell pepper is often roasted to enhance it’s natural sweetness, something which doesn’t work as well with green bell peppers. They each have their own charm and use.

Back to the other berry (peppercorns are berries), which I consider in the same way as their big brothers, the bell pepper. Black peppercorns are the under ripe berry that is slightly cooked (both in water and then in the sun) until the skin turns black. When the berry ripens completely it is skinned and dried. So, actually, this is where the analogy ends. White peppercorns are just the seed of the berry, while black peppercorns are the whole berry. While at this stage, it’s worth mentioning green peppercorns. Green is almost identical to black, but not cooked in the sun, rather it is brined, which maintains and enhances the natural green color.

Rainbow Peppercorns

So how do they differ? Well, different people debate the “spice” of each color pepper, the truth is they are identical and the other flavors are affecting peoples tastes. The skin contains chemicals which taste strong, often this is what people consider to be the true pepper flavor. Meanwhile the less intense white pepper actually has the same flavor that is just less intense.

In terms of uses, white pepper is often used in French cooking for white sauces, such as bechamel, in order to avoid seeing black specks. Also the creamy sauce doesn’t need such a strong pepper taste. Green pepper has use in French cooking as well, specifically when making the wonderful dish: Steak au Poivre, which features crushed green peppercorns. Black pepper is the default pepper though in most French cooking.

In Asian cuisines, the default pepper is typically the green or white peppercorns, although black has been used for thousands of years in China. And in some provinces of the mainland you won’t find any of these, but rather an unrelated version: Szechuan pepper, which is MUCH spicier. When I visited Thailand I saw only green and white pepper on tables.

In the US most people rely on black pepper for their dishes, it is definitely the default. And when I cook, I use it 95% of the time. I consider it almost as critical as Salt… which has many variants as well, but that’s for another time :)

posted by Lon at 08:12 AM Filed under Basics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.